In life we are not unacquainted with “bad days”; perhaps we have had to endure a difficult season of life. For many, such days and seasons pass and they are able to enjoy life again. Unfortunately, for others, even if circumstances seem blessed and well, they still feel sad and distraught. Such people experience depression.
Depression is not new; in past days it was called sadness or melancholy. Depression is most often understood as a persistent low or down mood. Depression is difficult to characterize since people experience it in different ways and in different degrees at different times; the term is also flexible, used to describe everything from momentary feelings of sadness to chronic, severe, debilitating sorrow. Catalysts for depression are equally broad; some feel as if they have always experienced depression, while others find depression brought on by the loss of a loved one, the breakup of a cherished relationship, stress and difficulties in life, or after the birth of a child. Depressed people struggle to participate in the normal routine of life; they frequently isolate themselves; they sometimes feel unworthy of love, worthless, and believe that their families and friends would be better off without them around. Many depressed people have felt suicidal; some have taken their lives.
We still have much to learn about the causes of depression; we also run the risk of over-generalizing since depression influences the brain, thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors, and may result from a number of catalysts. It is likely that a mixture of causes is at work: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Physical causes would include genetic predisposition, imbalances in brain chemicals and/or hormone levels, stress, and brain damage. Emotional causes may be experiential as a result of trauma from abuse, relationship failures, personal failures (however real or imagined), responses to various difficult experiences, or feelings of great guilt, regret, or shame. Spiritual causes may involve Satanic temptations, suffering on account of persecution, or suffering as a consequence of sinful behaviors (2 Corinthians 1:8, 7:10, 1 Peter 5:8).
As the Preacher declared, there is a time and place for weeping and mourning, thus, for sadness (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Grief is the appropriate response when we experience the pain of broken relationships and the loss of loved ones. Grief about our participation in sin is designed to lead us to changing our thoughts and behavior in repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). We ought to recognize that this life will not always be happy, pleasant, or according to our plans and expectations; moments of pain and sadness remind us of the terrible consequences of sin and death and move us toward hope to share in that day when there will no longer be pain, mourning, or sadness (Revelation 21:4). We all experience pain, misery, and sadness as part of the human condition, yet most of us will climb out of those moments and be able to likewise experience and enjoy joy, happiness, and laughing.
Yet some remain in the valley of sadness, not on account of unwillingness to leave or sinful behavior, but on account of depression. The creation is still subject to corruption (Romans 8:20-22); we see this not only in all the violence and sin present in the world, but also in the physical maladies and disabilities people continue to suffer. Humans remain plagued with illnesses like cancer and heart disease; some are born with disabilities, some physical, others mental, like Down’s Syndrome or forms of autism whereby full consciousness and moral accountability will most likely remain unreached. If in all these matters we see evidence of the corruption of the creation we should not be surprised to find such corruption in chemical and hormonal imbalances in the human brain as well. Therefore, for many, depression is not their “fault.” It is not because they have sinned. They cannot just “get over it” or “happy up.” It is an illness, their particular cross to bear, akin to Alzheimer’s Disease or cancers. Simply trusting in Jesus may not be the cure; as with all illnesses, Jesus will provide strength to endure even if there is no cure (Ephesians 6:10-18).
In the past many Christians have proven harshly dismissive of depression. We ought to no longer dismiss depression as just some sort of sin problem but recognize it as an illness and show appropriate compassion to those who suffer from it (Matthew 25:34-40). We do well to “visit” the depressed, assuring them of our love, care, and concern for them, praying for them, but also spending time with them (Matthew 25:36).
Perhaps, as you have read this, you have seen yourself in the description of those who suffer depression. Please know that you are loved: God loves you, the people of God love you, and in Christ there is hope for the day when there will be no more pain, sorrow, or depression (Matthew 5:43-45, John 3:16, Revelation 21:4). Praying to God and taking comfort from the Scriptures, like Psalms 23, 77, and 88 helps to provide some strength and comfort (Romans 15:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Find a church of the Lord’s people if you have not yet done so, draw strength from them, and find someone there you can talk to who can serve as a source of encouragement for you (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Hebrews 10:24-25, James 5:16). It may also be necessary to seek medical professional help from counselors, therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists and to obtain counseling and perhaps even medication from them. Severe depression is not sin; it is not your fault; there is a way forward! Let us all take strength from the Lord Jesus and endure to the end!
Ethan R. Longhenry